Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Treading Water

As you know, we had a chance to go to Myrtle Beach, SC and we had a great time.  We had a great time, don't get me wrong but I was haunted on that trip.  The only person I could think about was my old friend, Amy (pictured next to me in first picture).  I spent two weeks in Nags Head, NC with her when we were both 16.  She was there with her cousin (pictured on left in first picture, and then on the right in second picture) and we three sun bathed, teen clubbed, and rice cake snacked like nobodies business. Wilson Phillips was our theme song.  The entire album.  We believed we sounded just like them as we belted out "If you hoooooollllddd on for one more day...."  and we believed we would live forever. 

(Amy, me, and Cami)

During the second week, we all took a dip in the ocean and swam past the curling waves.  The three of us were all in shape and strong so the fact that we couldn't get back in to the shore didn't occur to us until maybe 20 minutes went by without any of us talking; each body concentrating on our own breath and keeping our chins above the water.

 (Cami and Amy)

At one point, I remember hearing Amy ask if Cami and I were also struggling to get back to shore.  We admitted we were and wondered what was happening.  For every stroke toward the beach we took, two ethereal mystical heavier pulls from the ocean itself rebuked our efforts and brought us further and further out into the deep waters.  I turned face up toward the sky and attempted to float.

At this time, I remember opening my eyes to see nothing but starry light come through soft clouds, I wasn't sure if I was still in the water or now floating with the sun. I could no longer hear my own heartbeat throbbing in my ears. The panic that was surging through my body moments before had left.  There was only the light sound of water lapping all around me and it was comforting, not scary.  I felt it cover my face and then my chin went cold.

I was underneath just a few seconds when the cold of my chin sent off an alarm to my brain.  "SWIM!"  my brain shouted like never before, "YOU MUST SWIM NOW!"  So I did.  I looked for Amy.  She was going under too.  I yelled to her to keep floating as much as possible.  Cami was losing steam many feet to the left of Amy.  We were all at the end of our bodies' ability to keep going.  I saw the fear in Cami's eyes and yelled to her to keep treading water.  Amy made her way over to Cami and the two of them bobbed in the water for what seemed like 100 years.

"SWIM HARD!" my brain demanded.  "DO NOT STOP," and I didn't.  Something stronger than me took hold of my chest and made me refocus on the waves.  I steadied my breath and shot my arms forward as hard as I could.  My legs were just useless appendages and hung down like weights.  "MOVE your LEGS!" my brain demanded and somehow I did.  I focused every ounce of my cellular makeup toward the shore and would not let my eyes veer off from the beach.  Something ran under my toes.  It was sand.  My mind registered sand.

"PLEASE HELP US!" I cried to a man wearing bright pink swim shorts.  He waved back and smiled, not hearing my pleas but instead seeing a young girl who had lost the top of her bikini waving to him.  I wasn't sure whether to laugh or to cry.  So I got pissed.

"Oh please help us out here mister, save us, we're DROWNING!" I screamed inside my head but he just kept on grinning.  I was out of earshot.

Another pull from somewhere else happened inside me and I swam stomped my way back until both feet could touch without hopping up and down for air.  I looked for the man in the pink swim shorts and he had stopped smiling.  He walked toward me, the now naked girl breathless before him.  My entire bikini was around my ankles.

I noticed his dark eyes growing serious as I felt his dark beard on my face.  He was carrying me.  "Please, my friends, they can't stay up..."  I didn't even get to finish explaining before the man in the bright pink swim shorts took off like a superhero into the water after Amy and Cami who I could no longer see myself. 

Moments later, I found myself wrapped in a stranger's towel and the man who went to save my friends had reached them.  He had Amy on one arm and Cami on another.  Only he wasn't moving.  He was shouting something.  The best I could figure is that he was trying to swim back and got stuck in that whirlpool action too.

Then I heard lifeguard jeeps, some beeping, lots of shouting, and suddenly my friends appeared next to me, blue lips shivering in their own big white fluffy towels. 

"You were caught in riptide." One of the lifeguards explained to us.  It's not easy to get out unless you swim parallel to the shore.  Which is the way whatever was propelling me forward sent me.  I was the only one to swim parallel to the shore long enough to finally make it there.  And then, bright pink swim short man swam out to save my friends' lives.

I wish like crazy I could end the story there.  And I will for anyone who can't take one more tragedy in their life.  Please stop reading now, I implore you.  For the rest who are curious?  Here's why I couldn't get Amy and what we had been together off my mind while at the beach with my family.

Amy Maryott, the girl who experienced a near death experience with me so many years ago, finally chose death for herself after her son took his own life a few weeks ago.  She is no longer here.  All that fight in her when we were just young skinny kids was gone.  Losing her teenage son was all she could bear.  I cannot imagine the amount of gut wrenching agony coursing through her to make her lose the urge to live.  But she did.  And now she's gone.  I could not save her.  Her own remaining beautiful children could not save her.  There was no more will left in her to live so she could not go on.

My heart rang like a hollow bell every time I heard a wave slap or crash in on itself with the stark realization that she is gone.  We are no longer teenagers with no real life concerns more than trying on each others' clothes to get ready for the night ahead of us.  The truth is, we are now grown women who had 20 years of life between then and now;  Children were had, marriages (and some divorces) happened, and many moves got in the way of us keeping in close contact throughout the years.

 (Me, Amy in first picture; Amy & Cami in second pic)

What surprised me wasn't the fact that I thought about her while at the beach.  What surprised me is my complete denial that my friend is no longer here on this earth with her children like I am.  With each sunrise, I was asked to face this as a fact and for each sunset I refused.  I choose to remember her fighting, swimming, treading water with all her might because that was the Amy I knew.  And that is the Amy I will remember.

 (Amy & Cami in first pic; Beautiful Amy in second)


Anonymous said...

Very moving tribute and I hope writing this down does give you some kind of closure. I remember that day in Nags Head so many years ago very very well when my shaking and pale blue-lipped teenage daughter walked over to me in my car as I was picking you up from what I thought was a fun day at the beach with friends. <3 <3

OSMA said...

I know you'll never forget that day either, Mom. Who knew those serene water could hold such danger? To this day, I see no point in swimming in the ocean when there are usually very good pools around to jump in, with lifeguards and a snack machine. xoxoxox

The Palmer Family said...

God Bless Amy. I loved seeing those pictures. Amy's personality shines through in them.

Anna See said...

I am so sorry, OSMA. xo